Selenium helping some farmers produce "bucks" wheat

South Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 2000  | July 2000 issue

An odd nutrient concentration in the soil in parts of South Dakota is harvesting great rewards for some South Dakota wheat farmers, while giving others a case of sore feet.

Selenium is a micronutrient believed to have benefits to the immune system of humans and animals, acting as a backup of sorts to Vitamin E. European wheat is low in selenium, and buyers there are reportedly paying $10 to $15 a bushel for selenium-rich wheat at a time when prices for the average bushel of wheat languishes below $3.

Ironically, many farmers would prefer not to have selenium-rich soil, as high concentrations can lead to alkali poisoning in cattle and horses (the symptoms of which include sore feet). The wheat farming community also is downplaying the market potential, noting that selenium concentrations are spotty and are often found in soil that is otherwise poor.